The kinds of things being said on social media after the move to introduce an impeachment motion against Chief Justice of India (CJI) Dipak Misra in Parliament are frightening. It seems the nation’s social discourse has lost its way.
Such questions are bound to come up in a vibrant democracy. Allegations may be levelled at times. A few misconceptions can arise, but if your intention isn’t bad, these differences can be overcome. This is the first time an attempt is being made to impeach the CJI. It would have been better to have waited for Parliament to debate this. If every other person began to pass judgement on our highest institutions, they will be robbed of their prestige. Without prestige, you cannot run an institution, or government or national sovereignty.
It appears that we’re getting into the habit of sensationalization. And the world’s largest democracy has no meaningful dialogue on tackling fear, hunger or poverty. If one were to find out what this nation did in the past 10 years, the answer will be just one: the nation with a population of 1.25 billion kept itself busy mud-slinging.
Let me begin by talking about the barbaric Kathua rape case. It is clear that an innocent girl was raped for many days. No decent person will disagree with the fact that those involved in this heartless crime deserve the strictest punishment. But when the police made arrests, some people came out on the streets in support of the accused. Why did they do this? Can people’s sentiments decide the course of justice? It is better to have faith in the courts and let the judges do their work.
If people’s fury was enough to rein in social ills, newspaper headlines about dark deeds would not disturb the tranquillity of our mornings every day. As I write these lines, the headline of the newspaper lying in front of me has a bloody tinge to it. A seven-year-old has been raped and murdered after a wedding ceremony in Etah. If the oppressor and the victim hadn’t been from the same community, we would have turned it into a senseless battle on the lines of Kathua. While doing this, why do we forget that 90 people are raped in the country every day and five children become victims of physical abuse every hour? Instead of finding a solution to these societal evils why are we engaged in ideological debates?
Not just rape, we appear to be losing our ability for rational thinking on every sensitive subject. The matter of the sudden shortage in currency notes in 11 states, too, has been relegated to a hollow debate rather than logical reasoning. This has ensured that the government’s problems went from bad to worse. If you recall, a few months ago, a rumour began doing the rounds that nationalized banks were facing bankruptcy and that people’s money wasn’t safe with them. Along with this, a story was floated that the Rs2,000 currency note would be discontinued. The government denied these rumours immediately but speculation was rife on social media. As a result, the speed of depositing cash in banks slackened. Along with this, a lot of people began to invest and dispose of money. At such a time, the keenness to distribute cash that should have been displayed, led by the Reserve Bank, was perhaps not exhibited.
Let me share the details of a Press Trust of India investigation with you. Lalit Jha, a journalist from this well-regarded news agency, while speaking to New Jersey resident Deelip Mhaske discovered that more than a hundred Dalit activists from the US, UK, Australia and West Asia had used artificial intelligence and geographic information system to organize a successful Bharat bandh (strike) on 2 April. Mhaske claims that this Dalit group spent between $300,000-500,000 on purchasing data from social media over the last three years. Some of it was procured from a London-based company. Was this company Cambridge Analytica? To this Mhaske replied: “Certainly not."
According to Mhaske, their objective is to influence 100 Lok Sabha constituencies using social media. Along with this, from the political perspective, they have six very important states —Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat and Maharashtra—in their crosshairs. To examine the extent to which they have been successful over the last three years, they organized the Bharat bandh on 2 April, which was successful.
I have no evidence to show whether Mhaske’s views are right, wrong or exaggerated. But the big picture is clear. Social media has become such a fire-breathing dragon that before getting influenced by the opinions and messages published on it we need to exercise our own wisdom.
Blind faith in social media can prove to be dangerous.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan.
His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin